“Once you get papers, you become a real person”

The graphic is by the Finnish Immigration Service, available here: http://www.migri.fi/download/57705_2014_tilastograafit_en.pdf?c97a94c6f234d288

The graphic is by the Finnish Immigration Service, available here: http://www.migri.fi/download/57705_2014_tilastograafit_en.pdf?c97a94c6f234d288

0.03% of the world’s refugees live in Finland. You wouldn’t think that from the way the issue gets portrayed by many Finnish politicians and in the local media, but numbers are pathetically low. In 2014 for instance, 1 346 individuals received asylum in Finland, while another 1030 were accepted under the country’s refugee quota system.

These are some of things I learnt at a workshop organised by the Finnish Refugee Council last week. Established in 1965, the organisation supports refugees and immigrants in Finland, as well as refugees in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Thailand.

I’ve decided to volunteer with the Refugee Council to combat what appears to be a rise in negative attitudes towards foreigners in Finland, as well as counter the spread of what can only be called misinformation about the extent and type of immigration to the country. As a first activity, I look forward to welcoming Liberian Cucu and his Kenyan wife Gloria for a meal to our house as part of a multicultural exchange.

There are now over 50 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. That’s the highest level of displacement ever recorded. The three top origins for displaced people are Afghanistan (2.56 million), Syria (2.47 million), and Somalia (1.12 million). That’s a lot of lives put on hold, people stuck at camps and in uncertainty and boredom.

Rita used to be one of them. Having fled the Rwandan genocide as a teenager, she spent time – sometimes in hiding – in the Congo, Kenya, and Senegal before being accepted as a refugee in Finland as part of the official quota. When she told us her story at the Refugee Council workshop, she described the moment she received official identification papers ahead of travelling to Finland: “Once you get papers, you become a real person.”

It’s evident Finland can’t offer a home to all of the world’s refugees. But clearly we can do more. After all, 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries with significantly less resources with which to offer the displaced safety from persecution, conflict, and violence. One in every five people in Lebanon today is a refugee.

And the fact is, recession or not, more immigration into our small northern state is actually good for us. Apart from the many benefits deriving from learning about and living among other cultures,  research conducted by OECD in 2013 showed that, fiscally, Finland benefits more from immigration than it costs. I wish that was something that featured more prominently in the public debate, especially as we head towards the April elections with the xenophobic Perussuomalaiset party predicted to get around 15% of the vote.


A camp and a festival: Tumaini at Dzaleka.


Went to the Tumaini Festival at Dzaleka Refugee Camp about an hour outside of Lilongwe in Dowa last Saturday. Organised by the Dzaleka Cultural Association (DCA), the event featured a variety of performances by Malawian artists and groups from the camp. We also got a tour of the camp itself, which is home to some 19,000 refugees and asylum seekers mainly from the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi but also from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and other countries. It’s the only refugee camp in Malawi and has been open for 20 years. Our Congolese guide explained that most nationalities have their own areas in the camp, but the common language is Swahili.


At first look, the place doesn’t look much different from a poor settlement in Lilongwe. There is no visible fence, but residents are not supposed to leave without permission. Some do make their way to Lilongwe, but run the risk of being arrested if found by the police. According to UNHCR, “With the exception of Angola and South Africa, countries in the [Southern Africa] subregion hosting a significant number of refugees maintain encampment policies that restrict the freedom of movement of refugees and asylum-seekers and impede their efforts to become self-reliant. Many of these camps have existed for decades, and the second and sometimes third generations of refugees living in them find it difficult to envision a better future.”

So at second look, not exactly your poor settlement in Lilongwe. In any case, here are my shots.






















All borders fade?

Came across two items online this week that together made me reflect on borders and imagined communities.

The first one: How Africa Would Look Like if its Borders Were Defined By Ethnicity and Language. By George Peter Murdock, 1959.

africa boundaries

The second one was a photo essay by Mark Minkjan entitled After Schengen, published on the site Failed Architecture. The essay features photos of abandoned structures at abandoned border crossings in Europe as these became obsolete following the enactment of the Schengen Treaty between EU countries. (I’d show you some of them but can’t figure out if I’m allowed.)

My reflection? Borders are mostly imagined and change over time. Don’t get too attached.

If you’re into migration, this is a must read.

Thank you John Metcalfe for highlighting this awesome research on migration flows. I’m re-blogging one image which is probably not allowed, but with the caveat that I urge you to go and read the article in The Atlantic Cities (or, if you have access, the actual researchers piece in Science). Simply fabulous. And very thought-provoking.

Credit: Abel/Sander, Science 2014

Credit: Abel/Sander, Science 2014

(Should Guy Abel and Nikola Sander – the people behind the study – deign to send me a free copy of their research, I’d be more than happy to write more about it.)